Friday, August 17, 2018

Psychology and The Battle of Britain

Originally published 10 July 2015

Today, July 10, marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. German Luftwaffe attempted to destroy the British Royal Air Force (RAF) before invading Britain in 1940. Timeline.

The failure was a turning point in the war. Many have analysed the event in terms of German air superiority-planes, pilots and experience. There are mentions of British radar as helpful.

I take a look at psychological factors.

People make mistakes. Germans underestimated the number of British planes. The British overestimated the number of German planes. It’s always better to underestimate an enemy.


Defending your family, friends, and homeland is much more motivating than risking your life to attack an enemy-especially one you expect to defeat later in the year.

EMOTION trumped cognitive strategy

By all accounts Hitler was angry over British counterattacks on German towns. He began pummeling London (minor damaged to my own house in North London). Whilst this can put fear into a civilian population, it spared the RAF planes and personnel and allowed them to repair and increase their capacity.

Germans were led to believe they were winning-- the war would soon be over. It’s hard to keep up such deception when the RAF just burned your capital city. Berlin was bombed 25 August, 1940. Luftwaffe head, Hermann Goering was embarrassed – Berlin would never be bombed, he had promised.


Churchill’s speeches included fiery rhetoric in tune with the anger of the civilians. Of course this is linked to motivation.

WINNING support

It would be more than a year until the United States entered the fray. Churchill had to communicate a delicate balance of needing help but not looking like a losing cause. The Battle of Britain showed resolve and strength against a powerful German military that had wiped out the large country of France in a little over one month.

Churchill's famous phrase--

"Never, in the field of human conflict 
was so much owed by so many to so few."


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Why People Support Trump

7 Reasons Why Donald Trumps the Republican Competition

Original post date 25 July 2015 at 7:01 PDT

Anyone getting news in the last month knows the name Donald Trump and a few of his ideas. His outrageous statements got the focus on him. No other GOP candidate got near the publicity. Donald played offense (offensively) and Democrat Clinton was on defense —about emails. Of course a lot of others were playing defense too—people defending immigration, John McCain, and they’ll likely be more.

Trump says what his conservative fans want to hear. For the conservative group that’s fed up with politics as usual, lost freedom of speech, perceived threats from immigration, Trump shows he’s part of the tribe.

Trump gets “Us vs. Them” tribal thinking.

Check out the word “you” and “They’re.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems,…” (wsj)

Trump is a well-known brand name—that counts for authority in a nation where athletes sell sneakers and movie stars sell cosmetics. Take a sample of ad campaigns in the U.S. and you’ll likely find some celebrity touting the virtues of something unrelated to their education.

Authority is a commodity that can be created and sold. 

Publicity gets votes and votes create authority-even if not elected. 

Trump leads the polls.

Trump offers to protect the U.S. from harm—it doesn’t matter that the harm is a matter of perception or that the "Great Wall" on the U.S. southern border would cost billions. Most people respond to emotions not reason. People respond to threat. Why would we have immigration laws and border patrol in the first place if it weren’t for concerns about who gets in?

Trump knows what his conservative base wants to hear. It doesn’t hurt that an infamous Mexican criminal escapes from the most secure Mexican prison in July. And it didn’t hurt that a man deported five times killed a woman in San Francisco in July (CNN).

Check out the alleged threats from Mexico:

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (wsj)

Now contrast this “harm alarm” with another candidate, Jeb Bush. Bush succeeds in scaring millions of seniors by raising the fear of cutting Medicare. What a headline! His explanation is lost—emotion trumps. Instead of “Us vs. Them,” Bush creates an “Us vs. Him” situation—at least for those worried that their last days may be horrible without the security of healthcare. (CNN)

Checking out a great wall

Trump intuitively knows how to trigger disgust psychology—that powerful feeling that causes people to recoil and protect against anything that might contaminate and destroy us. We don’t just need a wall—we need a powerful filter. 

So, back to the speech lines above—notice the need for a filter to protect us from “rapists” and almost a question that “some, I assume, are good people.” 

The thought that rapists might be coming across the border and we can’t tell the good folks from the rapists is an emotionally charged image evoking the psychology of disgust linked to tawdry, life-destroying sex. His timing is incredible in the context of recent widespread rape news of an actor and terrorists in Iraq.

The Republican way to freedom from oppression is often linked to employment—hard work is the way you get ahead in the U.S. What’s not to like in the following quote by a successful business man who claims to be the best at producing jobs. And a nice touch—Trump gets in a link to God and creation. 

Trump will be "the greatest job-producing president that God ever created." (Arkansasonline)

Trump’s poll numbers make it clear that he can attract more voters than any other GOP candidate. If he does not become politically bankrupt, he could become an independent candidate and draw conservative voters away from Republicans. (WashingtonPost)


Crime data. So how real are those threats from Mexico? The WashingtomPost reports Trump is wrong about immigrants and crime.

Branding. Many of us prefer generic products so Trump, as an expensive brand, will not attract a majority of voters, unless he runs as a third party candidate. Trump has a niche market but I doubt he has national appeal. And brand loyalty can be fickle. Brands stumble for many reasons and other brands can rise to become competitive. It will be interesting to see if he maintains his lead.

Lessons. Those of you familiar with moral psychology will recognize several moral foundations that apply to politics and religion. In a sense, Trump has artfully captured a righteous constituency. A good summary of moral psychology can be found in Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind.

The race to the U.S. presidency is an ultramarathon.

Thoughts from a legal immigrant.

Political Cultures and the Psychology of Enemies

On the Psychology of Politics

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The forgoing quote is from John Ehrlichman in 1994. Dan Baum includes it in his April 2016 Harper's article: "Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs." I came across the piece posted on Facebook by my friend, Doug Olena. The drug issue is interesting in itself, but my focus is on the psychological principles within the quote.

Here's my three points.

1. " getting the public to associate..."

For decades psychologists have demonstrated people and animals learn new things by association. This can be used for good when you want to teach new skills like learning to count or say the alphabet while laughing at funny characters.

Marketers sell whatever to men linking a beautiful female model draped on some product like a truck or motorcycle. Women are shown luxurious hair next to a picture of shampoo. Just watch commercials.

In the quote we see the evil side of association. Link any group of people with something evil or fearful and you can stir up hatred and rejection. Repeat the message until it is learned. Portray your product or yourself as the one who can fix the problem. Link and repeat. 

Some may not know the psychology behind this approach, but they know it works. Motivational speakers use this all the time. For example, think of any contemporary outgroup based on religion, ethnic identity, or gender identity. Link that group to trouble, crime, or anything considered evil. It won't take long before a lot of people get the message.

Can you name any groups vilified by politicians or religious leaders lately?

2. "...vilify them night after night on the evening news."

Repetition is a key to learning anything. 

When a deceptive association is tagged with emotion--especially fear or anger--it just needs to be repeated over and over again. We naturally pay attention to threats, which is why negative news fills the media. It is obviously good to know if bombers are heading to our city or conditions suggest a risk for a tornado in the next few hours.

As Baum writes, politicians have often harped on drugs as evil. Religious groups do too. The facts don't seem to matter. War language is not just a metaphor when you use real weapons and kill real people or throw people into prison for possessing small amounts of a substance declared illegal. Dependence on alcohol and other drugs is a real problem for some people but the solution is to help those who suffer from their substances. 

Evil associations linking people to drugs, disease, and depravity produce income for politicians (if they win an election), companies with products that protect, gurus with programs that cure, and religious leaders offering healing or deliverance. Buyer beware. Who benefits from any scary association?

3. "Did we know we were lying...?"

We rarely find out the lies told by government officials or corporate leaders in their quest for leadership. Newspapers and watchdog groups are important to a free society yet masterful politicians know how to use sound bites and staged appearances to convey a lie. Most people don't read detailed analyses about anything.

Learning lies can occur in one lesson. 

Some paired associates are so powerful that the message takes one presentation to learn. Even after truthful messages have countered a lie, an old pairing resides in memory. What group of people do you associate with AIDS? 

Sadly, it's not just politicians and business people who lie. Preachers, teachers, and parents do too. Just about any leader can use associations to scare others into changing behavior. Unfortunately, big lies can cause a lot of damage.

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